Perspective on Israel’s tech economy, with Joshua Burgin

  (photo credit: Joshua Burgin)
(photo credit: Joshua Burgin)

In a rapidly evolving world, the technology economy in Israel shines as a beacon of innovation and vibrancy. Our remarkable tech ecosystem has continually set new benchmarks, driven by a relentless pursuit of excellence and creativity.

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with Joshua Burgin, a seasoned expert in cloud computing and technology with a wealth of experience from his stints at Amazon, Zynga and VMware. He also shares a deep personal connection with Israel, having visited the country many times and serving as an advisor to several Israeli-based startups. Joshua's outside-in perspective offers unique insights into the factors fueling Israel's entrepreneurial spirit and global impact.

In an exclusive Q&A session, Joshua delves into the secrets behind Israel's technological prowess and the driving forces behind its growth. Join us in discovering how the "Startup Nation" continues to inspire the world with cutting-edge advancements in cloud computing and technology, setting the stage for a brighter future in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Q: Hi Joshua. Nice to meet you. Can you give our readers some more background on your connection with Israel? 

Joshua Burgin: Naim Meod – I’ve visited Israel more than a dozen times, witnessing its growth and progress firsthand. I have been privileged to experience the country's warm hospitality, rich culture, and vibrant history – from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to Haifa, and from Eilat in the south to Ramot in the Golan Heights. Between my leadership roles at Amazon Web Services and now at VMware, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Israel for work nearly every six months for the past decade, meeting with my Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa-based colleagues; collaborating with Israeli companies in the cloud, hardware and software startup sectors; partnering with forward-looking government agencies such as the Ministry of Justice; and speaking at technology conferences such as the AWS Summit and DevOps Days. These visits have further deepened my connection with Israel and her people. 

Moreover, my family has had the privilege of visiting our Jewish homeland on numerous occasions, including a special trip after my son's bar mitzvah in December 2019. Little did we know how fortuitous the timing would turn out to be, as shortly after our visit, the world would come to a standstill due to the Covid-19 pandemic!

Q: Interesting you mention Covid, do you think the pandemic changed anything in Israel related to technology?

JB: The world may have shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Israel's dedication to innovation and sustainability continued to shine, admits this global upheaval. Despite many internal divisions, the country responded positively in terms of health interventions, and as a result the economy continued to grow and tourism eventually resumed – people felt safe given the coordinated government & business community response. I saw no change, and maybe even an acceleration of Israel's remarkable journey as the "Startup Nation," with the continued importance of military service in fostering entrepreneurial spirit and setting Israeli tech companies apart from those founded elsewhere. 

Q: Can you give me some examples of leading Israeli tech companies who set themselves apart through innovation and maintained a lasting strategic advantage? 

JB: In the past 2 decades, Israel has emerged as a global innovation hub, with numerous companies making groundbreaking contributions to various industries and generating billions in both revenue and enterprise value. From the tech sector to renewable energy and beyond, these companies have become synonymous with creativity, agility, and boldness. There are too many companies to list them all, but here’s a few I’ve worked closely with over the years who’ve left a mark.

Wix, a web development platform, has transformed how businesses and individuals create and manage their online presence. With over 200 million users globally, Wix exemplifies the Israeli spirit of creating accessible and user-friendly solutions.

Appsflyer, a mobile attribution and marketing analytics company, has become an essential partner for mobile app developers worldwide. Its cutting-edge tools empower businesses to optimize their marketing efforts and drive growth.

SpotInst (now known as Spot by NetApp) is a cutting-edge cloud optimization and cost management company that originated in Israel. With its innovative AI-driven platform, Spot at NetApp helps businesses optimize their cloud infrastructure, ensuring optimal performance and cost efficiency. By automating the utilization of cloud resources, Spot at NetApp empowers organizations to focus on their core business while maximizing the benefits of cloud computing. Its groundbreaking solutions have earned the company recognition as a key player in the global cloud technology landscape – and I’ve continued to work with their founder, Amiram Shachar, a serial entrepreneur who’s now leading a new startup named Upwind Security, which is focused on making cloud-native security simple, effective, and easy to consume.

MobileEye, an autonomous vehicle technology company, has revolutionized the automotive industry with its advanced vision-based driver-assistance systems and autonomous vehicle technology. Intel's $15 billion-dollar acquisition of MobileEye and the partnerships with leading auto manufacturers such as VW, showcases the global impact of Israeli innovations.

What’s fascinating about the list above is just how varied the companies are – indicating the breadth and depth of expertise you can find in Israel’s technology sector. Everything from computer vision to Cloud Computing to Consumer Web Sites to Internet Advertising. In fact, Israeli innovation reaches far beyond the confines of the consumer and B2B technology sectors. I’ve seen an increasing focus on the areas of sustainability and the environment from Israeli startups.

Q: What impact has the focus on sustainability had on Israeli tech companies, and what specific companies do you believe are fostering a greener environment?

JB: Israel's commitment to addressing its own environmental challenges has resulted in remarkable advancements in renewable energy, water management, and sustainable urban development.  And growing out of this, there are Israel companies solving problems at the intersection of climate, water conservation, and urban sustainability, and they are making a global impact. 

Companies like Watergen have developed cutting-edge atmospheric water generators, which extract water from the air to provide clean and safe drinking water, particularly in water-scarce regions worldwide. 

Another notable example is Netafim, a pioneer in drip irrigation technology that has revolutionized agriculture by delivering precise and efficient water usage to crops, conserving water resources and boosting agricultural productivity globally. 

Additionally, TaKaDu, an innovative water management company, utilizes data analytics and AI to detect and prevent water leakages in urban infrastructure, reducing water wastage and enhancing sustainability in cities across the globe. 

Similar to the rest of Israeli startups, instead of keeping these solutions exclusive to their own borders, these visionary Israeli companies have turned their gaze outward, recognizing that their expertise & solutions can serve the global market. By exporting their technologies and know-how, they are not only driving Israel's reputation as a leader in sustainability but also fostering positive change on a global scale, contributing to a more ecologically responsible and sustainable future for all.

Q: Have you personally observed any other instances, outside of startups, that reinforce Israel's commitment to sustainability? Perhaps in terms of restaurants, public transit, or other areas where you've noticed significant efforts towards environmental consciousness?

JB: Absolutely. On a personal level Tel Aviv's vibrant streets have always been a highlight during my visits. Embracing walking & bike-friendly infrastructure, green spaces, and an efficient public transportation network, the city showcased its dedication to creating an eco-friendly urban environment. Exploring restaurants like Port Sa’id, Speakeasy’s rooftap bar, and Ramesses in Jaffa, or shopping centers like Ha Tachana (the old train station) I could sense the commitment to preserving & integrating nature in the heart of the city. I’ve used the newish train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (and back), and can’t wait to check out the new Metro in Tel Aviv when I’m there next.

Q: Earlier you mentioned that military service gives the Israeli startup community a unique flavor. Can you elaborate on this?

JB: One thing I strongly believe is underweighted when discussing Israel’s economic vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit is the role of compulsory military service. Military intelligence units like the well-known Unit 8200 (shmone matayim) and Units 81 and 9900 have garnered international acclaim for their exceptional talent and expertise in technology and cyber intelligence. These units serve as breeding grounds for some of the most brilliant minds in the country, providing rigorous training and hands-on experience in cutting-edge technologies.

For instance, Avishai Abrahami, the co-founder of Wix, served in Unit 8200 during his military service. The skills and problem-solving abilities he honed during this period undoubtedly contributed to Wix's global success, empowering millions of people worldwide to create stunning websites with ease.

My friend Amiram Shachar, is also a former member of Mamram, the unit responsible for the IDF’s cloud & secure data-center infrastructure. He exemplifies the impact of military service on entrepreneurship. Founding SpotInst and now Upwind Security, his military training instilled crucial capabilities and a fearlessness, underscoring the role of military service in Israel's founder-driven culture.

Ronen Navi, an IDF and Unit 9900 alumnus, founded Navina in 2018, an AI-driven platform that empowers physicians to instantly see and assess the most critical patient data in minutes.

The maturity and leadership instilled through military service, combined with the vision to solve complex challenges, have played a pivotal role in shaping Israel's vibrant startup ecosystem. Many startup founders and successful companies, like those mentioned above, have emerged from these military intelligence units, bringing unique skills, determination, and insights to the business world. The fusion of military training and entrepreneurial spirit has contributed to Israel's reputation as the "Startup Nation," punching far above its weight in a way that makes a profound impact well beyond Israel’s borders. 

Q: Thanks for your time Joshua, as we wrap up here, can you tell us what you think the future holds for the Israeli technology industry?

JB: Bevakasha. As I reflect on my many journeys to Israel, I am filled with admiration for the country's dedication to innovation, driving economic growth, and igniting a spirit of entrepreneurship that knows no bounds. My experiences traveling to Israel before Covid and the fortuitous timing of my family visit in December 2019 have deepened my appreciation for the nation's position as the "Startup Nation." Israel's dynamic technology sector has not only fostered technological advancements but has also inspired a global community of innovators. 

The future of the technology industry in Israel holds immense promise. Despite political challenges, Israel's unwavering commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship will drive its vibrant tech ecosystem forward. The country's rich talent pool and culture of efficiency will be the cornerstones for sustained growth and global impact. Israeli tech companies are already making waves in generative AI, continuing the deep legacy of hardware-based innovation. I’m seeing the emergence of healthcare & climate change-focused startups, disrupting industries and solving pressing global challenges. With the support of the government, investors, and a thriving startup culture, Israel's position as a global tech powerhouse will continue to grow, inspiring future generations of entrepreneurs and making an indelible mark on the world stage.

--It was truly enlightening to hear about Joshua’s experiences visiting Israel and watching its astronomical growth over the past two decades as it catapults its tech industry into the future. He gave us an incredible glimpse into his personal connection to the country as well, having traveled there extensively for both business and with his family, where he celebrated his son’s Bar Mitzvah milestone, met with friends, and strengthened his faith through the spirit of perseverance, determination, and dedication that permeate the country’s culture.

Credit: Joshua Burgin
Credit: Joshua Burgin

About Joshua Burgin 

Joshua Burgin is an innovative leader with over 25 years of technology business experience, began his journey at Amazon as one of its first 100 employees in 1997. As a former GM at Amazon Web Services (AWS), he played a pivotal role in shaping the cloud computing landscape. With a deep connection to Israel, Joshua has visited Israel frequently both for work and with his family, experiencing its businesses, rich culture and history. Today, he drives product, engineering & strategy for VMware & Product & Cloud Services portfolio. Joshua is a sought-after keynote speaker on DevOps, cloud computing, and organizational development. He remembers his Bar Mitzvah Torah Portion (Deuteronomy XV, The Year for Cancelling Debts) but not his d’var torah.

Joshua has cultivated a personal and deeply meaningful connection to Israel through business as well as with his family and through his faith. He has traveled there dozens of times in the past two decades, acquiring a deep appreciation of the country’s “can-do” attitude and dedication to the safety and perseverance of the state through its national military service. Because of its dynamic approach to technology, Joshua continues to grow relationships with innovators who can help influence and inspire other forward-thinking tech leaders around the world. Additionally, by traveling there with his family, he has forged incredible memories and a love for the land and its tenacious people.

This article was written in cooperation with Jeff Jacobs